Anyone who has driven the interstate (I-90) across South Dakota has more than likely seen a landscape view just like this one. This is basically the typical landscape and what you see all the way from Mitchell, S.D. until you get to the City of Wall, South Dakota and then from Wall, S.D. all the way to Rapid City, South Dakota. But there is really not much between the "Corn Palace" in Mitchell, all the way to the city limits of Rapid City, SD except for a little town called WALL. We stopped at the "Wall Drug Store" in Wall S.D. (literally within a very few miles of where I took this picture of a passing thunderstorm) on the Great Plains.
This "Wall Drug store" (in this dry wastelands area) has become a mega-tourist trap and classic vacation stop for generations of thirsty travelers. As you travel this road, it seems as if every couple of miles, you will see a billboard telling you just how many miles you have until you reach this (TRAVELERS OASIS).
Many of you may even remember (although candidly, I didn't) that a guy named Dobby, was actually Killed by a Billboard? As the story goes, Virgil "Dobby" Hansen of Philip, South Dakota, painted hundreds of the nice wooden billboards that lined the byways of the Midwest, hawking the wonders of Wall Drug. Called Dobby because of the paint "daubs" that covered his clothing, Sherwin and Williams in RED, GREEN, BLACK,YELLOW and of course the nice crisp WHITE, he neatly hand-lettered each sign that stood out so vividly at 70-80 MPH. Each one, clear, concise and memorable, was a work not only of art but also of the pursuit of a job well done.
Dobby began sign painting in South Dakota when he returned from his service in World War II, and painted until his death in 1989, killed by the plywood sheets of an 80-ft. long "Wall Drug" billboard as it slid off a truck.
Dobby not only painted signs for the Wall Drug, but did woodwork that graces the Wall Drug as well.Others were the brands around the dining room, the wooden Wall Drug in black walnut on the face of the store and the Travelers Chapel sign to name a few.
For years, I have seen bumper stickers on cars stating that, "WE VISITED WALL DRUGS ~ WALL S.D." and had no idea what it meant. When we visited Wall Drugs, (which is basically a whole block, rather than just a drug store). The thought of visiting a DRUG store actually did NOTHING for me personally, but after seeing these billboards, we just had to stop, especially given the half million (or so it seemed) signs that we had spotted all the way from the "Corn Palace" in Mitchell.
The exterior of Wall Drug looks much the same as the older pictures I saw in Wall, with the only noticable change being to the sign, which now reads "Bill, Ted, and Rick Hustead's Wall Drug". The sign out front also states that seating capacity is up to 530.
I was surprised by what I found inside. Wall Drug is a totally enclosed collection of shops with a chapel, pharmacy museum, and huge cafe. The size of the meals in the cafe could be expressed as FARMHAND size. Each specialty shop was staffed with summer help from overseas, courteous and willing to help us.
Actually Wall Drug had a display of historical photographs that was incredible. There must be at least 2,000 or more with lots of interpretive information with them. Easily worth a couple of hours of time. Also, there is a huge and hokey Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur that belches smoke and makes very loud noises every 14 minutes. Also worth waiting for with small children or if you want to wonder why all the other adults are waiting for it too.
There was also the hokey bench with the plaster cowboys sitting on it which I HAD to pose my wife with, to prove she could have done better in life than getting stuck with me.
After wandering around the interior of Wall Drug for about an hour -- totally lost at times since it seemed you can walk around in what seemed like a square but you never end up back were you started -- we finally checked out the back lot. There we found the famous Free Ice Water Well, jackalope, bucking horse (real horse hide, by the way), buffalo (again a real hide), Mt. Rushmore, and chuck wagon photo-op.
The only disappointment was the pharmacy museum. I expected something world-class, given the piles of money Wall Drug makes each season but we found the museum to contain very few pharmacy related artifacts, all of which were up on a high shelf so anyone under 6 feet tell can't even see most of them. Most of the 'museum' space is dedicated to trying to sell you funny-smelling candles and throw-away cameras. Just like any OTHER tourist trap.
I could not help but wonder what this place would be like in the middle of February instead of July. But, please don't get me wrong... Wall Drug is the miracle of the badlands and I am sure if I am ever traveling that very long stretch of Interstate 09 from Mitchell, S.D. to Rapid City S.D. and find myself in the Badlands, believe me, I will make sure that I stop by and get myself a bumper sticker that reads, "WE VISITED WALL DRUGS ~ WALL S.D.""If you come to a fork in the road, take it."